Romans in Ljubljana

Photo: Jaka Gasar

2000 years ago, the Roman city of Emona stood where Ljubljana stands today.

The Ljubljana Basin has been inhabited since prehistoric times. A special place in the history of settlement in Ljubljana is occupied by the period of Roman Emona , traces of which have survived in the city centre right up to the present day.

In the early first century AD the Romans established Colonia Iulia Aemona on the left bank of the Ljubljanica, on the site of the centre of present-day Ljubljana. Thanks to a stone inscription discovered almost a century ago, we know that Emona was already standing by the second half of AD 14 or the beginning of AD 15 and that the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius had ordered a major public construction projects, possibly town walls with towers. The town was settled by colonists from northern Italy.

Emona flourished from the first to the fifth century. It had a rectangular layout with a cen-tral square – the forum – and a grid of roads intersecting at right angles with blocks of buildings between them. Cloacae – large sewers – were built under the roads in an east–west direction to drain waste water into the Ljubljanica. The town was surrounded by a wall with towers. Some districts outside the walls were also settled. Burial grounds grew up along the roads leading into the town – from Celeia (Celje), Aquileia and Neviodunum (Drnovo) – according to the Roman custom. The first inhabitants were colonists from Italy and Gaul, along with their slaves, and retired Roman legionaries.

As a Roman colony, Emona controlled a large territory, the ager, for which it represented the administrative, political, economic and cultural centre. Part of the Emonan ager was surveyed by Roman land surveyors and divided into agricultural holdings for the new settlers. Agriculture was the principal activity of the inhabitants of Emona, just as it was in the majority of Roman towns. The countryside around Emona contained villages, hamlets, estates and brickworks. Some small localities became local centres and market towns: Carnium (present-day Kranj), Nauportus (present-day Vrhnika) and the sites of present-day Ig and Mengeš, whose Roman names are not known. 

From the late fourth century to the late sixth century, Emona was the seat of a diocese. The lively contact between Emona's Early Christian community and religious circles in Milan is reflected in two surviving letters from St Jerome to the nuns of Emona and a monk called Anthony.

Text by Tanja Glogovčan